9th Jul, 2020

80 years since driving tests became compulsory in the UK

Bromsgrove Editorial 3rd Jun, 2015 Updated: 17th Oct, 2016

THIS week marks the 80th anniversary of the driving test being introduced in Britain and, since that date, more than 50million exams have taken place.

To coincide with this motoring milestone, The Standard has got in touch with a local driving instructor to find out about his experiences of helping students through what for many is the most nerve-wracking time of their lives.

David Mann from ADI Bromsgrove has been an instructor for six years but, even in that relatively short space of time, has experienced some of the changes brought in.

He said: “I think the main difference now is the way we prepare people for the test, it’s almost like preparing for a big stage show these days.

“If I have a student and they are not properly prepared, I will not put them in for their test.”

The driving test became compulsory on June 1, 1935, when there were just 1.5million cars on the nation’s roads – 7,000 people were killed on the country roads each year prior to that but, within a year of the driving test’s introduction, the number of deaths had fallen by 1,000 and it has continued to improve ever since.

Last year, there were 35million vehicles licensed for use in the UK and 1,700 people were killed on Britain’s roads – including drivers, passengers, cyclists, motorcyclists, pedestrians and other road users.

Mr Mann added: “I used to work at a nuclear power station and, whilst generating power, electricity, steam and ultimately hot water was the purpose of the site, that was not our priority – our priority was the safety and we had procedures to follow to ensure that happened.

“I always tell my students that driving, in a way, is similar – if you drive safely and follow the procedures we have in a car, you will pass the test.”

Back when the tests were introduced, there were no test centres – those wanting to take it had to arrange with an examiner a place to meet, such as at a post office, railway station or town hall. The pass rate for the driving test in 1935 was 63 per cent, in 2014 it was 47 per cent.

A written element – the theory test – was introduced in 1996, replacing random questions asked by the examiner from the Highway Code. In 2002, a hazard perception element was added to the theory test, using video clips to gauge candidates’ awareness of dangers – an 11 per cent reduction in crashes has been attributed to that introduction.

Many of the original elements, however, including turning the road and reversing, still remain today but, Mr Mann added, he felt the biggest change he had seen was the ‘independent driving’ part of the practical test. That challenges students to follow a series of instructions to drive along a certain route without the examiner giving them commands as they go along.

“This has been good because it teaches drivers how to follow instructions and plan ahead,” said Mr Mann.

Other changes have seen students now needing to know more about the mechanics of the car, including tyres, their condition and pressures, brake fluid, oil levels and windscreen washer liquid.

And, as you would expect, Mr Mann said there had also been some quirky tales to tell along the way.

“One student of mine was on the roundabout in Oakenshaw in Redditch when he got confused and was unsure as to which exit to take.

“He ended up going around the island five times, before getting off.

“He still passed as the examiner said he could not fail a person for them not being able to count.”

And he added a student of a fellow driving instructor had driven into a car park by mistake after being told by the examiner to ‘take the next left’.

He calmly took a ticket at the barrier, drove through, put the ticket in the exit machine on the other side and left the car park.

He also passed as the examiner said he had done nothing wrong.

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